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Astros' Nick Tropeano takes mound surrounded by West Islip friends and family, especially his grandfather

Nick Tropeano of the Houston Astros throws in

Nick Tropeano of the Houston Astros throws in the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park on September 16, 2014 in Houston, Texas. Credit: Getty Images / Bob Levey

You wouldn't think that Mets vs. Astros on the final day of the season would be a reason to be excited.

It is for 56 of Nick Tropeano's relatives.

At 10:30 a.m. Sunday, they plan to board a charter bus from the family home in Canby Court, West Islip, and be taken to Citi Field, where Tropeano will make his fourth MLB start, his first in New York.

They'll sit in Section 122, directly behind the Astros' dugout, near where at least 75 more of Tropeano's relatives, friends and former coaches are expected to join them.

Perched right behind Section 122 in a handicap seat will be 97-year-old Frank Nani, Tropeano's grandfather.

Before Tropeano, 24, made his MLB debut on Sept. 10, before he was drafted in the fifth round in 2011 and signed by the Astros, before he was an All-American at Stony Brook, there was Nani.

Since Tropeano was 4, Nani attended nearly all his games. By the time Tropeano was 11, he was playing 100 games a year. According to Paul Tropeano, Nick's father, that meant Nani began watching 100 games a year.

The story behind how and why Nani made it to Sunday's game makes this big-league start incredibly special for Tropeano.

Two years ago, Nani suffered a bad fall and broke a femur bone, a collarbone and a couple of ribs.

"I didn't think he would make it," said Debbie Tropeano, Nick's mother and Nani's daughter.

Nani also was convinced the end was near. So one day before surgery, he called Paul Tropeano into the operating room.

"I'm not going to make it," Nani told Paul Tropeano.

"You have to," Paul Tropeano responded with tears. "You have to hold on a little longer to see Nicky make it."

"How long is that going to be?" Nani asked.

"About two more years," Paul Tropeano said, hoping he was right.

"OK, I can do two years," Nani said.

Nani held up his end of the deal and made it. And "one of the most competitive players" Stony Brook coach Matt Senk has seen in 25 years made sure his grandfather didn't have to wait any longer than he promised.

"Grandpa was one of those guys who when I was little, he came to every single one of my games," Tropeano said Friday at Citi Field. "He was there. He's always been there. And he's always said to me, 'I'm going to make it when you make it up there.' Now it's fortunate he's able to see me play. It's special. It really is."

Nani and Tropeano's other grandfather, Paul Tropeano Sr., who is 92, could not fly to Seattle with other close family members for Tropeano's debut because of health concerns. Instead, they watched it on television.

"We explained to them that there was a small chance Nick could pitch the final weekend in New York and that they would go," Paul Tropeano said. "We were hoping."

After Houston reshuffled its rotation, Tropeano was announced Monday as the starter for Sunday, the final regular-season game. When Tropeano found out, he immediately phoned his parents.

"We told both grandfathers and they were really like two kids in a candy store," Debbie Tropeano said.

"When I told Frank," Paul Tropeano said, "he wept like a baby and just said, 'I made it.' You take some things for granted in life. But this puts it all in perspective."

Heading into Sunday, Tropeano is 1-2 with a 3.78 ERA in 162/3 innings. He visited Shea Stadium "a bunch of times as a kid," but grew up a Yankees fan and idolized Roger Clemens. He has no idea where Section 122 is at Citi Field, but said he'll learn fast once he hears all the cheering.

"We'll be loud," Debbie Tropeano said. "Everybody is so psyched and pumped, it's like they're the ones that are pitching. My husband will be nervous. I won't be nervous."

Tropeano said he wouldn't be, either.

"Every day recently has just been a dream come true," he said.

Now he just cares about making his grandfather's dream come true Sunday and seeing him smile when it's all over.

New York Sports